Had the court stayed the conviction, Gandhi would have been reinstated in Parliament.
An Indian court on Thursday rejected opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s plea to stay his conviction in a criminal defamation case that resulted in his expulsion from Parliament.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gandhi, his main challenger in the 2024 elections, were last month sentenced by a court to two years in jail for defamation for mocking Modi’s surname in a 2019 election speech.
The jail sentence was suspended earlier in April by a court in Modi’s home state of Gujarat for the duration of the appeal process.
A man who shares the prime minister’s surname, which is common in Gujarat, accused Gandhi of defamation for a speech in which he asked, “Why are all thieves nicknamed Modi?” Gandhi then mentioned three famous and unrelated Modis in the speech: a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon, a cricket executive banned from the Indian Premier League, and the prime minister.
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The petitioner who filed the case is a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat, but is not related to Modi as the prime minister or the other two mentioned by Gandhi.
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The Press Trust of India news agency reported that Judge RP Mogera, who dismissed the petition, said Gandhi “should be more careful with his words” as he was a member of parliament and head of the opposition Congress party. ,
A stay on Gandhi’s sentence would have opened the way for his parliamentary seat to be restored. But he can still seek a stay on the sentence in the High Court.
Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters that Gandhi would soon challenge the court’s decision in a higher court. “We are confident that the High Court … will correct these legal errors,” he said.
Under Indian law, a criminal conviction and a prison term of two years or more are grounds for expulsion from Parliament. Gandhi was disqualified soon after the ruling in March, dealing a major blow to the Congress party ahead of general elections next year.
If the court does not overturn his conviction and two-year sentence, Gandhi risks losing his eligibility to contest elections for the next eight years.
The prosecution of Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister and scion of the dynastic Congress party, was widely condemned by Modi’s opponents as the latest attack on democracy and free speech by a government seeking to crush dissent. The speed of his expulsion from Parliament shook Indian politics.